Interview: Kimberly of Team Rwanda

Kimberly of Team Rwanda
Whether you’re a fan of cycling or not, you can’t deny that the story of Team Rwanda is an inspiring one. The Team has been improving year after year and it’s great to see how much excitement the Tour of Rwanda generals and how much support the Team gets. I had a chance to chat with Kimberly who works with Team Rwanda. Check out their website or Facebook page or follow them on Twitter to find out more.

Can you give a bit of a background about yourself?

I grew up in the Midwest, Kansas City. In 2002 I moved to Las Vegas. My background was in restaurant ownership. My last position prior to leaving for Africa was as a Business Development Manager for Sysco Foods.

How did you end up in Rwanda?

In April 2009, I came to Rwanda for the first time. It was supposed to be a volunteer opportunity with Project Rwanda from April to August and then return to my ‘real’ life. In September I returned to Rwanda as a paid Country Director for Project Rwanda. Throughout this time I started to help Jock Boyer, the coach of Team Rwanda, with the Team. I’m a cyclist and love all things cycling so it was a natural fit.

How did you get involved with Team Rwanda?

While working for the Team on the side, setting up meal planning, social media, doing laundry, whatever the day called for, I volunteered my way into a job with the Team. I left Project Rwanda in June of 2010, spent 6 months as the interim Country Director for World Bicycle Relief in Kenya, and then returned to the Team full time in April 2011.

Can you give a short history of the cycling program in Rwanda?

Team Rwanda was founded in 2006 when Jock Boyer assisted an American friend with a race called the Wooden Bike Classic here in Rwanda. There was quite a bit of talent so a couple of friends convinced Jock to return to Rwanda in early 2007 to begin testing riders. He initially committed to coming for three months….that was five years ago!

How many bikers are currently on the team and how to do you find new riders?

The Team runs about 20-22 riders. We have 6-8 that travel to international races, several new riders in development and a group of veteran riders transitioning into coaching/mentoring roles with the younger riders. Most of our riders come via the current Team members. Team Rwanda members know what we are looking for and they bring them to the training facility in Musanze to have a ‘watt’ test on our Velotron.

This helps us quickly pinpoint whether there is significant natural talent. If they test well, they will be given a bike for a month and instructed to ride with a veteran team member to learn basic shifting and riding skills. Some of the riders who do not test as well or lack experience are sent to the Clubs which there are eight in Rwanda. These clubs just received some used bicycles from a donor in Italy at the end of 2011 and they put these riders on their bikes to gain experience.

What sort of in-country and international success has Team Rwanda had?

Rwanda has hosted the Tour of Rwanda since 2009. It is a UCI sanctioned international race with over 15 teams from Africa, Europe and the US participating. It is generally the third week of November every year and the spectators who come out in support of the race number in the millions. The 2011 Tour crowds were estimated at three million. Team Rwanda was also the #1 team at this past year’s Tour. They also placed 5 members in the top 10.

Rwanda also has its first Olympic Mountain Bike participant, Adrien Niyonshuti. Adrien is a member of Team Rwanda but also rides professionally for MTN Qhubeka, a pro team in South Africa. Adrien is currently the only Rwandan qualified for the 2012 London Games.

What sort of impact has joining Team Rwanda had on your riders?

All of the lives of these riders have changed significantly. Adrien has built his mom a house in Rwamagana with water and electricity. We have six other riders who now all own homes. During training camps they learn English and yoga every evening. One of our riders, Obed, spent time training with a US based yoga instructor and has been invited to train in the US. Rocky, a relatively new rider on the Team lost his eye in a freak accident last year unrelated to cycling. Through a generous donor in the US we were able to fit Rocky with a glass eye. Rocky also had extensive dental work done this year all of it covered by the Team. If he had not been on the team he would have lost several teeth and would not have his glass eye.

When did the women’s cycling program start and how has that been received?

The women’s team is hit or miss at this point. Generally prior to the Continental Championships every year the Federation will send some riders to our training camps, however, they do not train consistently. There is simply not enough funds to support two programs and in Africa, there are no women’s races with the exception of South Africa.

Can you tell us a bit about the ‘Rising from Ashes’ documentary?

Rising from Ashes is the story of Team Rwanda. They began filming the team at inception and have followed the team’s progression through 2011. The tag line is, “Hope is an Amazing Ride”. We are hoping it premieres in spring in the US and we are looking for a Rwandan premiere in June during Kwita Izina. It is narrated by Academy Award winner, Forest Whitaker.

How can interested people get involved with Team Rwanda?

Most important for us at this point is financial support. We run on a shoestring budget with only three staff members. There are many options on the website to give to a specific need such as dental visits, tickets to the Tour of Eritrea in June, funding a week-long training camp or simply funding one rider for a week at camp. You can see all the options, or make a general donation, or buy gear in support of the team on our Team Rwanda website.

What are the hopes for the future for Team Rwanda and competitive cycling in Rwanda in general?

We hope to continue to grow the program by continuing to bolster the grassroots club programs. This is the future cyclists of Team Rwanda. We are also looking at starting a Continental Team in 2013 which will be made up primarily of Rwandans but will also include other African nations. By 2017 we would like to have the first all black African team in the Tour de France.

About Kirsty

A Canadian who left in 2001 to wander around the world in search of sun, beautiful views and goat brochettes. Found Kigali in July 2010 and it seems like the perfect fit. I expect to be here until I get kicked out for defiantly walking on the grass while wearing flip flops.